Workplace Safety

An Employers Guide to COSHH

By Fiona Burns
30 Jun 2021

As an employer, you have a legal obligation to protect the health and wellbeing of your employees. Every year, hazardous substance makes thousands of workers ill and you need to ensure you protect them from these as best you can.

It can significantly increase absenteeism and decrease the profits of your business. Not to mention the impact accidents have on morale and productivity.

That’s why health and safety is so important in the workplace. There is an enormous number of substances that can be harmful to your employees.

This is where COSHH comes in.

But what does COSHH mean and how do you protect your employees from chemical substances? We explore the requirement, so you can stay compliant and host an efficient workplace.

If you’re looking for immediate advice on managing health & safety in your workplace, contact Croner today on 01455 858 132. Our expert consultants are on hand to help you create policies and procedures and can conduct risk assessments to guarantee the safety of your workforce.

Read on to learn more about COSHH specifically and how it’s beneficial for your business.

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for ‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’ and it’s the law that requires employers to control these substances.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002), the law requires employers to either prevent, reduce, or at the very least, control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health for their workers.

It is therefore an extremely broad piece of legislation and will be different for every business. There are several substances that can be harmful to employees, and the list is too exhaustive for even the HSE to fully define.

Why is COSHH important?

Workers suffer from lung disease, cancer, and skin disease because of chemical substances. These diseases cost millions of pounds each year to society, industry, and of course, the individuals affected.

COSHH aims to keep employees out of harm’s way and reduce the number of work-related injuries and health conditions across the UK. Breaching these regulations puts your workers at risk of harm and ill-health, and non-compliance is also a crime that could result in prosecution.

By following the COSHH Regulations, a company can save money and be more effective by not having to replace trained workers – improving productivity and also cutting waste. Ensuring that workers stay healthy can also lead to healthy profits. Good health is good business.

Substances covered by COSHH

COSHH substances are hazardous to health. As mentioned before, there’s such a vast number of substances that come under the umbrella of COSHH, that it’s too difficult to list them all. COSHH relies on risk assessments to identify these substances in the workplace.

However, we can divide COSHH substances into broader categories, such as:

  1. Chemicals
  2. Products containing chemicals
  3. Fumes
  4. Dust
  5. Vapours
  6. Mists
  7. Nanotechnology
  8. Gases and asphyxiating gases
    1. Biological agents (germs – If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols, then it is classed as a hazardous substance.)

However, it does not cover the following categories, as they have their own specific regulations:

  1. Lead,
  2. Asbestos
  3. Radioactive substances

COSHH symbols  and meanings

Placed on the packaging of hazardous substances, COSHH symbols are there to tell you about the type of hazard a substance presents. We may classify a substance as one or more of the following nine types:

  1. Explosives
  2. Flammable
  3. Oxidising
  4. Gas under pressure
  5. Corrosive
  6. Toxic
  7. Health hazards
  8. Serious health hazards
  9. Dangerous for the environment

These names are not the official names given to each symbol. In fact, the regulations give each symbol a range of meanings. So, we may know some categories by a couple of names, for example, we sometimes refer to health hazards as 'caution'.

COSHH responsibilities

COSHH health and safety legislation requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to employee health and anyone who comes to your premises.

Each workplace is different and will need its own processes. However, to ensure some standardisation that allows the protection of employees, there are some COSHH essential responsibilities.

COSHH legislation outlines responsibilities for both employees and employers to ensure a safe working environment for everyone.

Employers responsibilities:

Employers have the responsibility to educate and inform staff on how to complete tasks safely and supply the correct equipment.

  1. Keep regular observations for tasks which involve these substances.
  2. Provide the right health care and checks for staff, whilst in contact with substances.
  3. Supply PPE (personal protective equipment), such as eye protection and noise protection equipment. (Also check if the fit is appropriate for workers and whether any PPE needs replacing).
  4. Check employees are carrying out tasks as they are supposed to.
  5. Prevent and control employees’ exposure to any hazardous substances.
  6. Supplying adequate COSHH training to staff.
  7. Provide accident plans for when accidents happen.
  8. Provide COSHH risk assessments.

Employee responsibilities:

Employees have the responsibility to ensure that they conduct their daily tasks safely and don’t cause harm to themselves or others. They should consider:

  1. Helping their employees create a safe working environment and abide by the regulations set in the workplace.
  2. Following the procedures put in place to stop accidents and overexposure which causes harm.
  3. Wearing the correct PPE, such as eye protection and noise protection.
  4. Ensuring the PPE is stored correctly and returned to its correct storage facilities.
  5. Correctly reporting any accidents/spillages/breakages of equipment etc.
  6. Attending medical check-ups. (Some workplaces provide medical check-ups to ensure their workers are safe while working with hazardous substances).
  7. Using any cleaning and showering facilities that are provided by employers.
  8. Keeping up to date with training provided.

COSHH risk assessments

As part of this obligation, you must for the work activities and working environment, to eliminate or reduce the risks to your employees.

When accidents occur, you must report them to the appropriate authority. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is the governing body responsible for health & safety in the workplace.

You are probably already aware of countless risks in your trade or industry. A COSHH risk assessment concentrates on the hazards and risks from substances in your workplace.

These are the steps for making a COSHH assessment and questions needed when assessing risks in your workplace, like:

  1. Where is there potential for exposure to substances that might be hazardous to health?
  2. In what way are the substances harmful to health?
  3. What jobs or tasks lead to exposure?
  4. Are there any areas of concern?

Expert support on health and safety at work and COSHH with Croner

Croner offers practical COSHH training to keep your workers safe, whatever position they work in. We offer manual handling assessment training, practical training, and more.

It is essential you correctly manage health and safety at work to stay both legally compliant and profitable. With Croner’s help, you can ensure your staff are professionally trained, avoid accidents before they occur, and protect your business from risk.

We have a free advice line for you to use where you will talk to our team of health and safety experts. So, you can rest assured knowing you’re working with the best.

So, for answers to all your COSHH questions, support with employee training, or advice on any other health & safety topic, speak to one of our experts today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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